Loosely based on Émile Zola’s Au Bonheur des Dames, new eight-part drama The Paradise sees Lark Rise to Candleford screenwriter Bill Gallagher return to BBC One primetime. Heavily-promoted, does the first episode of The Paradise differentiate itself enough to find its own niche in the already cluttered world of television costume dramas?
The Victorian-era drama sees small-town girl Denise Lovatt (Joanna Vanderham) forced to relocate to the city after the death of her father. Homeless and penniless, Denise seeks refuge in a department store known as The Paradise, run by the charming but surreptitious Mr Moray, played by Game of Thrones actor Emun Elliott.
This first hour was predictably dense with expositional dialogue; but by and large managed to strike a good balance between providing the audience with information about the central characters, and setting up mysteries to sustain viewer interest, chief of which seems to be the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Mr Moray’s wife. Downton-style multiple narrative threads are introduced, not all of them particularly compelling; but there certainly seems to be potential for a compelling series-long narrative arch.
A great deal of emphasis is placed on Moray in the opening episode, and Emun Elliot does a decent job of carrying this mantle, though it remains to be seen if he has the gravitas necessary to successfully play such a nuanced, pivotal character. Vanderham on the other hand does a great job as the unassuming Denise, with Sarah Lancashire and Sonya Cassidy also breathing new life into well-trodden character archetypes.
The art direction and score is suitably impressive; with the elaborate high street set that houses the titular department store being particularly intricate, and almost movie-like in its scale.
It’s hard to shake off the feeling that this is very much in the vein of Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs though, with the department store setting serving little purpose other than acting as a contrivance to bring people from different social classes together. Going forward, we hope The Paradise doesn’t dwell too much on this particular theme, as after the glut of television costume dramas in recent years, the viewing public is well acquainted with the societal divisions in our recent history.
All in all though; the first hour of The Paradise, whilst littered with archetypal characters and familiar costume drama tropes, was certainly enjoyable. Let’s just hope in subsequent episodes that it is able to differentiate itself from the competition and further establish its own identity.
Aired at 9pm on Tuesday 25th September 2012 on BBC One.
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